David Payne speaks to Frank Warren

Ricky Hatton’s next opponent has been the subject of intense speculation in recent weeks since his tangibly flat performance against 27-year-old Argentinean veteran Carlos Vilches.

Even the usually affable Hatton wore a frown in the post-fight interview and admitted that rushed preparation played its part in his ‘flat’ display. The subsequent exchange between Warren and Sky interviewer Adam Smith highlighted the pressure the former was under to provide the ‘test’ boxing fans, SKY, American network Showtime and, crucially, Ricky himself crave.

Hatton needs a fight, a motivating, genuine, 50-50 contest that he could lose. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask Frank Warren if he’d secured him one as he made his way to Cardiff for the Maccarinelli contest. Of course, when you get the chance to speak to Frank directly, you have to ask him about more than just Hatton.

Hi Frank, thanks for taking the time to speak to me, I appreciate these are hectic times for you at the moment. Firstly, speculation is rife that you’re close to announcing who Ricky Hatton will fight in his next bout, is it Spadafora or Harris?

Well we’re hoping to finalise the deal over the weekend, but it looks like it is going to be Spadafora. We’re almost there.

That’s good news, so the fans can expect an official announcement on Monday?

Probably, Monday or Tuesday if everything goes to plan this weekend.

I contacted Jay Larkin at Showtime this week, he confirmed that both Spadafora and Harris were fine with him, was this always the primary criteria – finding an opponent Showtime would accept?

Well not really, it’s just the way we wanted to go but Ricky’s been made Harris’ mandatory now so we have choices and the Harris fight is still out there. That’s why I was a little disappointed with Kathy Duva’s remarks last week. (Duva was critical of SN, claiming their meeting with Sports Network to be a ‘joke’)

We met, Showtime people were also present, I wasn’t able to attend but Sports Network were represented and we were/are serious about that fight.

Spadafora has a fight pencilled in for the 17th July against Francisco Campos, will this now be pulled or are you happy for the fight to proceed?

No, providing Spadafora wins of course, I’ve no objections to him taking the fight.

The Danny Williams v Mike Tyson fight is a real out of the blue match-up, how long have you known Williams was on the contingency list?

We’d known for about ten days I guess and I’m really pleased for Danny, he’s been craving a big fight to motivate him and you can’t get much bigger than this. It’s a huge opportunity for him.

It was certainly clear in the Sprott fight that he needs a challenge…

(interrupts) Sometimes the public don’t see the whole picture, they always want this fighter against this fighter, this fight then…and we try but marrying up TV dates is difficult. To be honest that’s the biggest difficulty about making some of these fights is getting SKY and Showtime to match. But people forget, and Williams v Tyson is another example, we’ve continually delivered big fights!

And that’s often the difficulty with Hatton, getting the backing of both TV networks and you need it to make big fights.

Will Junior Witter ever figure in the Hatton plans?

You’ve spoken to Jay so I’m sure he’s told you that Junior just doesn’t make sense in the States.

Sure, I don’t think the fans are under any illusions that Witter doesn’t make sense in the States, but do you regret not making the Witter fight when you’ve had non-Showtime Hatton fights in the past?

Junior is now a free-agent – he’s got no BBC backing – but the fight doesn’t mean anything in the States – and to be honest SKY aren’t that interested either, when I was looking after him I had [little luck at] all on getting interest in his fights.

Inevitably, SN and yourself are central to most of the stories being debated amongst boxing fans – and I’d be doing them a disservice if I didn’t ask about Matt Skelton, is Puritty next as the rumours suggest?

No, it doesn’t look like it will be Puritty, we looked at it but it didn’t work out so Dean Powell’s drawn up a list that we’re going to go over at the weekend. But we’ll come up with something, and it also looks like we may be able to do something with Harrison later this year too.

That was inevitably the next question!

Well I answered it for you then, that situation is progressing too.

That great news, I hope the bout happens. The recent Graham Earl v Bobby Vanzie fight created a lot of controversy that is still rumbling on, obviously you have an interest in Graham’s progress, but as a boxing fan could you understand Bobby’s frustration at the decision?

Yeah, I can understand his frustration but it was one of those messy fights, lots of people from different sides of the ring had different winners. What I can’t understand is Bobby’s ridiculous post fight remarks, about corruption and the like. Bobby’s now had two fights with two different referees and he’s still complaining, all this from someone whose brother works for the board!

Bobby’s brother has resigned his position with the BBBofC.

Ah? He’s resigned now has he? Or well there you go.

Would you accept a third Earl v Vanzie fight were it ordered later this year or do you hope to move on from Vanzie?

Well possibly, but I would hope we’d moved on from Vanzie now after all we’re not talking about great fights here are we? All this controversy, but not great spectacles, I cant see anyone wanting a third fight.

The future of boxing as a sport took a bit of a hit with the news the BBC are no longer going to cover much pro-boxing, how serious a blow do you think this is to the long-term health of the sport?

Well, it is difficult, I can say that I’m very disappointed the BBC are opting out of boxing, it isn’t good for the game as a whole. But we only had SKY before so it isn’t the end of the world, but I am disappointed but then again not totally surprised.

I offered the BBC all of my fighters but they weren’t interested and would only deal direct with the fighters, which just doesn’t make sense. Because if you deal direct with the fighter what is going to happen? Exactly what happened with Audley, he’s going to pick and choose his opponents but the real problem was when they tried telling us this was the greatest fight on earth. It was like a circus, it was just cheerleading, they simply didn’t have enough quality. And then you have Audley earning £100,000 a fight and it simply isn’t bill-topping stuff, it isn’t going to work. I’m not blaming Audley, if someone offered me those terms I’d have done the same.

I commented earlier this week that I thought they had the quality of fighter collectively between the different camps they were just spread too thinly and they simply lacked any expertise behind or in front of the camera.

Well, I’m not sure on the quality – you’ve got an awful lot of retreads there, fighters like Howard Eastman, I mean he’s been around for years – in fact he was on Micky Duff’s books years ago and none of them have done anything of note.

What surprised me was the way they criticised and prodded Audley after his fights but didn’t appear to do very much about it behind the scenes, it always seemed a bit unfair on Audley – after all, it was the BBC who gave him the million pound cheque for his first ten fights, what did they expect him to do?

I agree with you, they tried different faces but it didn’t really change anything and ‘Joe Public’ aren’t stupid, you’re not going to fool them and then Audley got precious and wouldn’t be interviewed by certain presenters it became a bit of a farce. The one guy who would have been good, impartial etc, etc is John Rawling. John would have been good.

In terms of getting back the mainstream or casual fan, which the sport needs to do, it’s a real shame isn’t it?

Yes it’s a shame but they started off in the 9pm slot and ended up in the graveyard slot and its because the product wasn’t strong enough, as I say you cant fool the public. By the time you’ve reached the graveyard slot you’re only getting hardcore boxing fans anyway.

So the Cardiff show tomorrow night, an Enzo Maccarinelli fight, are you looking forward it?

Yes it should be a good fight, Enzo’s is one of the most under rated fighters in the country and he’s a banger, he can definitely bang – but this guy he’s fighting (Ismail Abdoul) is durable so we’ll see how it goes.

Can you speak of the plans you have for Enzo in the next twelve months, there have been whispers of a Nelson or even a David Haye fight?

We’ve got plans for Enzo and I’d love to make the Nelson fight that’s a good fight.

Johnny’s been very inactive of late, a fight with the Danish guy Thomas Hansvoll falling through earlier this summer, what’s happening?

That’s correct the Danes couldn’t come up with the money in the end but he’s out again in September against a German and we’ll take it from there.

Thanks again for talking to me Frank and good luck with the show tomorrow, hopefully we’ll talk again soon.

No problem, take care of yourself.

For all his critics, and I’m sure he will always have them, it’s simply the nature of the business he’s in. One thing does come through from talking to Frank Warren and that is his passion for the subject. He enjoys talking boxing.

Comments and feedback to David at dwpboxing@yahoo.co.uk

Note: Thanks to Richard Maynard at Sports Network for helping to arrange this interview.